Bruce L. R. Smith focuses on the experiences of agency and presidential-level advisory systems over the past several decades. He chronicles the special complexities and challenges resulting from the Federal Advisory Committee Act-the "open meeting" law-to provide a better understanding of the role of advisory committees and offers valuable lessons to guide their future use. He looks at science advice in the Departments of Defense, State, and Energy; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the Environmental Protection Agency; and then examines how science advisory mechanisms have worked at the White House.
Rather than simply providing a description of structures and institutions, Smith shows the advisory systems in action—how advisory systems work or fail to work in practice. He analyzes how the advisers influence the policymaking process and affect the life of the agencies they serve.
Smith concludes with an assessment of the relationship between science advice and American democracy. He explains that the widespread use of outside advisers clearly reflects America's preference for pluralism. By scrutinizing agency plans, goals, and operations, advisers and advisory committees serve a variety of functions and attempt to strike a balance between openness and citizen access to government and the need for discipline and sophisticated expertise in policymaking. At the root of the advisory process is a paradox: scientists are called on because of their special expertise, but they are useful only if they learn to play by the rules of the political game. The Challenge to the nation is to reconcile the integrity of science with the norms of democracy.
Stokes begins with an analysis of the goals of understanding and use in scientific research. He recasts the widely accepted view of the tension between understanding and use, citing as a model case the fundamental yet use-inspired studies by which Louis Pasteur laid the foundations of microbiology a century ago. Pasteur worked in the era of the "second industrial revolution," when the relationship between basic science and technological change assumed its modern form. Over subsequent decades, technology has been increasingly science-based. But science has been increasingly technology-based--with the choice of problems and the conduct of research often inspired by societal needs. An example is the work of the quantum-effects physicists who are probing the phenomena revealed by the miniaturization of semiconductors from the time of the transistor's discovery after World War II.
On this revised, interactive view of science and technology, Stokes builds a convincing case that by recognizing the importance of use-inspired basic research we can frame a new compact between science and government. His conclusions have major implications for both the scientific and policy communities and will be of great interest to those in the broader public who are troubled by the current role of basic science in American democracy.